Sex workers applaud changes to Victorian Sentencing Manual

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Vixen Collective, Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation
Media Release – Wednesday 19th October 2016

Sexual offenders who target sex workers no longer able to be given reduced sentences for their crimes under updated Victorian Sentencing Manual

Vixen Collective has repeatedly raised concerns about the Victorian Sentencing Manual which is written and maintained by the Judicial College of Victoria who provides education for judges, magistrates and VCAT members; as the manual had relied on cases AG v Harris 11/8/1981 CCA Vic and Hakopian 11/12/1991 CCA Vic in a topic titled “Victim is a Prostitute”. Previously this topic stated:

“..the prostitute’s experience may tend to reduce the weight commonly given in rape cases to the ‘reaction of revulsion’ of the ‘chaste woman’..”  (AG v Harris 11/8/1981, quoted in “Victim is a Prostitute”)

These cases were also quoted in a topic called Hardy Victims.

Issues with these topics had been raised as an item of concern by our community, and seen as a contributing factor in:

  • Reduced sentences for those that offend against sex workers (whether directly applied, or through influencing opinions towards our community and its members in the courts).
  • Reluctance by sex workers to proceed with charges against offenders (one among many barriers sex workers face in accessing justice in Victoria).

We are therefore extremely pleased to announce that after liaising with St Kilda Legal Service who conducted research on the issue and made submissions to the Judicial College about amending these topics, the Victorian Sentencing Manual has now been updated to acknowledge:

“..that the mere fact a victim of a sexual offence was a sex worker will, of itself, have no effect on sentence. Rather, what is relevant are the consequences of the offence for a particular victim.” (quoted from “Victim is a Sex Worker – 31.6.2.12”)

We also note that the topic “Hardy Victims” in the Victorian Sentencing Manual, which applied similar reasoning to other victims of crime – “..certain victims may be less vulnerable than the standard, and thus suffer less harm from the same conduct..” – has now been removed.

This is a significant recognition of sex workers’ human rights in Victoria and importantly an instance where sex workers’ voices have been heard and acknowledged. We want to thank St Kilda Legal Service for their work and support, the Judicial College for their work and their commitment to addressing this issue as well as Justice Connect for providing pro bono barrister advice.

These changes address discrimination against sex workers as well as problematic views about sexual assault survivors contained within the guidelines.

Sex workers in Victoria, including Vixen Collective (as Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation) continue to call for improved access to police for sex workers and greater justice in the courts.  Although the changes detailed above are an important step for our community, the licensing system of regulating sex work remains an impediment to sex workers’ human rights, labour rights and safety in Victoria.

In line with the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Australia’s National HIV Strategy, Victorian AIDS Council, Living Positive Victoria, Harm Reduction Victoria, Burnet Institute, Australian Research Centre in Sex Health & Society, Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, St Kilda Legal Service, multiple medical studies, and sex workers’ representative organisations across Australia and the world – Vixen Collective continues to call for the full decriminalisation of sex work – this is recognised as the world’s best practice model of sex work regulation.

It is critical that the voices of sex workers continued to be centered in all discussions on law and policy relating to our lives and work – it is only in doing so that sex workers rights can be fully recognised.

For further media information/interviews, please contact:

Jane Green, Vixen Collective Spokesperson:  0420 887 845
Email: vixencollectivemelbourne@gmail.com

Suzan, St Kilda Legal Service: (03) 8598 6630
Email: suzan@skls.org.au

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Download a copy of this Vixen Collective media release here – 20161019-vixen-rape-sentencing-guidelines-media-release

Rape and the “un-chaste” victim in Victoria

 

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On 26th March 2015 notorious rapist and murderer Adrian Bayley was convicted of the rape of a sex worker.  On Wednesday 13th July 2016 the Victorian Court of Appeal quashed Bayley’s conviction, on the basis of the identification, made by the victim after seeing Bayley’s picture on FaceBook in a post relating to Jill Meagher’s murder.  Crime Victims Support Association President Noel McNamara called the decision “disgusting” and said it tells victims “they don’t get fair treatment in the courts”.

Is this really even news?  Reporting rape to police, going through the court process, is deeply unpleasant.  Name suppression should be automatic for survivors of rape – but it isn’t.  A survivor’s sexual history shouldn’t be admissible in court – but is.  Prior medical and counseling records shouldn’t be allowed as evidence – but are.

I am a current sex worker.  I have been raped.  I have never made a report to police.  In Victoria, under the licensing system, police are the regulators of sex work.  But police are not the people you reach out to for help when they regulate your work.  If we are working as street based sex workers or outside the licensing system, we can be charged for this when we report crimes committed against us.  Police continue to talk up the fact that they can “exercise discretion” over whether to charge sex workers in these cases.  Please understand, your “discretion” does not comfort us.  We need the same rights as other members of the public.  In the Adrian Bayley case alone there were at least ten other sex workers who did not trust police enough to give evidence.

In court we face being questioned about our work – judged and treated unfairly – in addition to the already traumatic questioning survivors of rape face.  When rape cases involving sex workers are reported in media, the focus will almost always be our occupation.

Even if there is a conviction, Victorian sentencing guidelines allow for judges to give lesser sentences to offenders that rape sex workers, as rape would not cause:

(the) “reaction of revulsion which it might cause in a chaste woman”

If it sounds like these guidelines date back to the turn of the century, it’s worth pointing out the cases the guidelines are based on are from 1981 (Harris) and 1991 (Harkopian) [1].

Vixen Collective (Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation) has made numerous submissions to the Victorian Government asking to have these profoundly offensive sentencing guidelines overturned – the government has yet to respond to or act on these recommendations.

Each time a sex worker receives unfair treatment at the hands of police, each case where an offender walks away unpunished, every time a rapist receives a short sentence, where victims and our community are placed on trial in the media – all are another red light to sex workers telling us we cannot get justice in Victoria.

In February this year, Vixen Collective recommended that the Victorian Government decriminalise sex work – a step that would have provided better access to police and justice – but a step that was not taken.  In doing so the government ignored not only Victorian sex workers, but the policy advice of every peer sex worker organisation in Australia, the United Nations[i], World Health Organisation[ii], Amnesty International[iii] and other organisations too numerous to mention[iv].

The Victorian justice system should do better for all survivors of rape and we should fight for it to be improved together.  But right now sex workers are shut out from even the limited justice on offer to other survivors.

It’s time for the Victorian Government to start listening to sex workers and do something about it.

 

NOTE: this opinion editorial is endorsed by Vixen Collective (Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation)

 

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WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?

Listen to sex workers.  We are the experts on our lives and work.

What can you do right now?
In late 2015 the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) ran a review into ‘The Role of Victims of Crime in the Criminal Trial Process’.  As part of this process Vixen Collective raised the many issues sex workers face in accessing assistance from police and accessing justice in Victoria, including Victorian sentencing guidelines permitting judges to give reduced sentences to offenders that rape sex workers – guidelines that influence attitudes towards our community in the courts even when not officially applied.
NB – The Commission will report by the 1st of September 2016.
Join us in reminding the VLRC to address justice for sex workers in Victoria by:
Contacting the VLRC on twitter at – @VicLawReform
Emailing the VLRC at – law.reform@lawreform.vic.gov.au

What can you do in the future?
Sex workers peer (sex worker only) representative organisations in Australia call for the decriminalisation of sex work for sex workers health and safety, click here to see a list of peer sex worker organisations around Australia – visit their websites and follow their social media to see how to support sex workers in your local area.

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REFERENCES:

[i] The United Nations Population Fund, United Nations Development Fund and UNAIDS support the decriminalisation of sex work and note that legal empowerment of sex worker communities underpins effective HIV Responses.
‘Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific’, United Nations, 2012, pg.21-31. http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/hivaids/English/HIV-2012-SexWorkAndLaw.pdf

[ii] Countries should work toward decriminalization of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers.”, Consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations, World Health Organisation, July 2014, pg.91.

[iii] Global movement votes to adopt policy to protect human rights of sex workers, Amnesty International, 11 August 2015.

[iv] Other organisations that support the decriminalisation of sex work include (for example):

Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP)
“NSWP membership comprises 237 sex worker-led organisations in 71 countries around the globe, including local organisations as well as national and regional networks. Our regional networks in the global south and global north represent many thousands of sex workers who actively oppose the criminalisation and other legal oppression of sex work.”,  ‘Why decriminalise sex work’, Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), Open Democracy, 30th July 2015, https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/global-network-of-sex-work-projects/why-decriminalise-sex-work

Australia’s National HIV Strategy
Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Sixth National HIV Strategy 2010-2013, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2010 at 6.4.

Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW)
“We know from them that the decriminalisation of sex work is the only way to ensure that sex workers are able to work in safety and be protected from violence and exploitation. … Often, sex workers and their clients are best positioned to detect and report cases of human trafficking or exploitative labour situations. This can only happen in a decriminalised environment, where neither party is afraid of prosecution.”, ‘Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women – Submission to Scotland Parliament in Support of Decriminalisation of Sex Work’

Global Commission on HIV and the Law
“Decriminalization is the first step towards better working conditions…”, Global Commission on HIV and the Law – Risks, Rights and Health, Global Commission on HIV and the Law, July 2012, pg.40.

Human Rights Watch
‘Human Rights Watch World Report 2014’, Human Rights Watch, 2014, pg.47.

Multiple Medical Studies
For example:
“Decriminalise sex work.  Decriminalisation can improve the risk environment..  End impunity for crimes and abuses committed against sex workers.  Advance evidence-based policies and practices in partnership with SW-led organisations.  End discriminatory laws, policies and practices against female, male and transgender sex workers.  ..  Include civil society, incl SW-led organisations, in national policy planning.  Recognise sex work as work, and develop occupational health and safety standards, mechanisms to redress violence against sex workers and other violations against labour and human rights.”  Panel 4: Calls for action for stakeholders in the HIV response for sex workers, An action agenda for HIV and sex workers, The Lancet, 22nd July 2014, pg.10.
C Harcourt, J O’Connor, S Egger, C Fairly, H Wand, M Chen, L Marshall, J Kaldor, B Donovan, ‘The Decriminalisation of Prostitution is Associated with Better Coverage of Health Promotion Programs for Sex Workers’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2010, 34:5 pg. 482.

Open Society Foundations
‘Understanding Sex Work in an Open Society’, Open Society Foundations, October 2015.

“Pieces of meat” & balance in journalism

On Friday the 1st of April, last week, Vixen Collective (Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation) issued an invitation to sex workers and supporters to join in raising concerns over the “World’s Oldest Oppression” Conference.  The conference, an event at which proponents of the partial/full criminalisation of sex work will be gathering, runs over the 9th and 10th of April (today and tomorrow).

Sex workers and supporters participating in the protest on social media since then, have been experiencing significant levels of abuse from anti sex work individuals.  This has included being called “pimps”, being told that we are “happy hookers”, that we are “meat for buyers”, “fucktoys”, that we are “commodities to be bought, sold and used”, referred to as “female flesh”, “pieces of meat”, and told that sex workers are the “pimp lobby”.

Vixen Collective itself, a sex worker only collective, made up of current and former sex workers, has been referred to as a “pro sex trade group” and “sex trade apologists” by event speaker Simone Watson.

 

Those involved in the conference have made claims of being “silenced” by sex workers, a proposition that seems ludicrous when examined – that a few sex workers on twitter could silence people who are having a conference to show case their ideas – a conference at which many of the speakers are published authors/journalists, some academics, many with significant social capital and power.

In confirmation of this fact there has been extensive coverage in the media on the conference outlining the anti sex work position, without any balance or effort to give voice to sex workers concerns.  Of the four “articles” carried in major periodicals, which could for the most piece also be characterized as opinion editorials, Vixen Collective has been contacted by none, nor has the national sex worker organisation Scarlet Alliance.

The headlines of the four pieces are as follows (they are deliberately not linked due to the offensive and triggering content):
‘Pro sex trade group Vixen Collective ramps up campaign’ (Simone Watson, Tasmanian Times, 5th April)
‘Van Badham’s freedom of speech for some? (Isla MacGregor, Tasmanian Times, 8th April)
‘I clutched the cash while he used me’: Former prostitutes on why they want the industry banned’ (Emma Reynolds, News.com, 8th April)
‘Sex Trade survivors deserve the chance to speak’ (Meagan Tyler, The Conversation, 8th April)

The first, is by Simone Watson, the current Director of pro-Swedish Model (sometimes referred to as the Nordic Model) group NorMAC, there is more information on the problems with this piece here.

The second, is by Isla MacGregor, close friend and writing partner of Simone Watson – this is an attack on feminist and Guardian columnist Van Badham for having the audacity to support sex worker rights.

The third, by Emma Reynolds, is what could kindly be referred to as an advertorial for the book ‘Prostitution Narratives’ that is being launched at the conference this weekend.  Now, let me be clear – everyone has the right to tell their story.  Being able to be heard when speaking about our lives is a critical part of what we are protesting for, but the fact that News.com ran a story without talking to anyone who wasn’t pro-criminalisation and didn’t contact a single peer sex worker organisation is a critical failure.  This is a failure not just in recognising  sex workers’ voices, but a failure in journalism.

The fourth, one is in The Conversation written by RMIT academic Meagan Tyler, colleague of Dr Caroline Norma, and also known for her work with organisation CATWA (an organisation that holds a pro-criminalisation of sex work view).  Ms Tyler includes quotes from my blog (where the original protest was posted), including that sex workers and supporters should:

“write to RMIT to express concerns about the Conference to the University Chancellor”

But then goes on to suggest that this amounts to:

“.. online tactics used to bully, intimidate and deny people a platform to speak..”

This is purposefully omitting the fact that at no time was there a call by Vixen Collective for the conference to be shut down, simply that we wished for sex workers concerns to be heard.

So what’s the up-side in a week of sex workers being called “pieces of meat” and shut out of the mainstream media?

Well, late yesterday RMIT Catalyst – the student newspaper at RMIT published an article where they spoke to both the conference organisers and Vixen Collective.  It was a moment of, for sex workers, what hopefully will be increasingly common in the future of journalism – being heard.

What traction sex workers do have in being listened to on their own lives and work in the media, shouldn’t be exceptional, it should be the standard.  It should not be an enduring battle to gain space to publish op ed’s of our own – but it is and so we express our thoughts and stories on blogs and twitter.  We’re not silencing anyone because these are so often the only places we have in which to speak.

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RMIT Slammed for Facilitating Sex Work Abolition Conference

We can only hope to see more balanced journalism in the main-stream press in the future.  Given that the above was from student journalists maybe it’s a good sign that we will.

Carrying on the tradition of making our voices heard in the spaces that are available to us, we are having a protest onsite at RMIT today, please see details below:

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Protesting the “World’s Oldest Oppression” Conference – Protest Notice

*Sex Workers & Supporters*

Time: 1pm until 3pm, Saturday 9th April 2016

Location: Outside the Emily McPherson Building (Building 13, 405 Russell St, Melbourne, on the Victoria St side of the building)

**Please be aware of and prioritise your safety, anti sex work individuals/groups have been known to approach & take photographs of people at protests, so if this is problematic or distressing for you then consider if it is safe for you to be in the protest space**

Please Note – we are planning and advocating for a non-violent, non-intrusive protest.

Vixen Collective does not advocate for anyone to enter the conference space or approach conference attendees.

On social media anti sex work individuals have raised concerns about silencing, which, given that the conference contains speakers who are published authors/academics etc. is wildly out of place and unrealistic compared to sex workers raising concerns on twitter.

However, just as sex workers do not wish to be silenced, we do not wish to be perceived as silencing anyone and therefore we ask people participating in the protest to try not to become involved in verbal altercations.

We will have Vixen Collective support people there and please take the opportunity to step back and de-brief.

We have permission to be present on RMIT property and RMIT security is aware that we are having a protest and can be called on if necessary.

If the space becomes hostile due to the presence or actions of anti sex work individuals or groups we plan to exit the space and de-brief off site.

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Vixen Collective

The Sound of Silencing Sex Workers

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On Friday last week I posted a blog entry entitled ‘Join the Online Protest – “World’s Oldest Oppression” Conference’ about the efforts of local peer sex worker organisation Vixen Collective to protest an anti sex work conference here in Melbourne, Australia.

Individual sex workers and sex worker allies have joined Vixen Collective in protesting online – primarily on Twitter – RMIT University’s choice play host to a conference that brings together a range of anti sex work figures, outspoken in their support of either the Swedish Model of sex work criminalisation (sometimes called the Nordic Model) or of outright abolition of sex work.

It’s always interesting to see what reaction there will be online to a protest by sex workers.  Interesting, but often predictable.

Anti sex work groups have a tendency to claim that they themselves are being “silenced” when sex workers speak out for our human rights.

Since the protest started, a member of local pro-Swedish Model organisation NorMAC, Simone Watson, who once likened sex workers to “meat” has published an opinion piece in the Tasmanian Times where Vixen Collective, an unfunded peer sex worker organisation is referred to as a “pro sex trade group”.

Simone Watson, also in the Tasmanian Times, makes the claim that I personally have “launched an online campaign to discredit the voices of prostitution Survivors”.  Given that I have done no such thing, as is demonstrable from reading the actual post – I would suggest that Ms Watson retract her defamatory statement.

In comments on Twitter by anti sex work folk, I noticed just this morning, the standard refrain that their side is being “silenced” by sex workers.

Of the listed speakers for the conference – Julie Bindel, Rachel Moran, Dr Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist – all are published authors, at least one has tenure at a University, and all make regular appearances as public speakers on the subject of the criminalisation of sex work – of which it is to be expected, that some appearances are paid.

These are not people who are silent.  These are not people who are lacking in a platform.  To suggest that an online protest by individual sex workers, an unfunded peer sex worker organisation, and sex worker allies – is in any way “silencing” people with this degree of power, social capital, and continuing access to a variety of platforms is absurd.

But it is a useful tool in continuing to silence sex workers, which really is the point of the exercise isn’t it, when your end goal is abolishing sex work?

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Want to join the protest?

Take action online:

RMIT is on both Twitter and FaceBook

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Looking for info when arguing with anti’s or debunking their arguments?  Check out ‘A Pocket Guide to Dealing With Anti’s Online’

 

Trans woman, sex worker – sent to mens prison in Western Australia

The latest news today on the case of a trans woman living with HIV, who is a sex worker, is that bail has been refused and she has been moved to a men’s prison in Western Australia.

“The court heard [name removed] was being supported by the Sex Workers Association which offered to provide a surety and accommodation should she be granted bail.
However Magistrate Paul Heaney refused bail saying the case was “unusual but very serious” and bail would be inappropriate.
[name removed] was remanded in custody and is due to appear in court again next month.”
– February 23rd 2016, ABC

“Outside court, People For Sex Worker Rights in WA spokeswoman Rebecca Davies told reporters [name removed] was distressed and the group was disappointed bail had been refused.
“We’re really disappointed and deeply concerned that a trans woman is being held in a male facility and we call on the WA government to do something to make sure this never happens to another trans woman ever again,” she said.
“Someone who identifies as a woman has been put in a male prison where they’re probably going to be subject to discrimination, possibly abuse from other prisoners, it’s just not a good scenario.”…”
– February 23rd 2016, WA Today

Quoted in the press on Saturday, local advocates voiced concerns about the treatment of the case in the media and the likelihood of a fair trial:

“…”We are here to support a fellow sex worker who is being vilified in the press,” PSWRWA president Rebecca Davies said.
“We are concerned that the person is not going to be given a fair trial … safer sex is the responsibility of everyone engaging in a sexual activity, not just one party.”…
Ms Davies also feared the case would reinforce the stigma against people living with HIV, saying the release of [name removed] personal health information was inappropriate.
“When we criminalise HIV, people stop getting tested. This is a public health issue, not a criminal one. WA needs to get with the times,” she said.” – February 20th 2016, ABC

This follows on from the woman being extradited last week from Sydney, where she was arrested over allegations of unprotected sex with a male client, resulting in charges of grievous bodily harm in Western Australia.
The woman’s lawyer informed the court in Perth today that the alleged victim was not a client but the two were instead in a consensual relationship.

While the case is not scheduled to return to court until next month sex worker organisation People for Sex Worker Rights in WA continue to advocate for the woman to be moved to a women’s prison and for the matter to be treated as a public health issue – not requiring criminal sanctions.

 

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For more, read the media release from People for Sex Worker Rights in WA, supplied by PSWRWA and re-printed with permission below:

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Media Release
People For Sex Worker Rights in Western Australia
19 February 2016

Allegations of HIV transmission have been made against a transgender person living with HIV, who was also a sex worker in Western Australia.

People for Sex Worker Rights in Western Australia, the peer-led advocacy group for sex workers in Western Australia, does not support criminalisation of consensual sexual activity, including when transmission of a sexually transmitted infection occurs. While we cannot comment on a case before the courts, we believe that sexual health should be treated as a public health issue, not a criminal one.

“Safer sex is the responsibility of everyone engaging in a sexual activity, not just one party,” said People For Sex Worker Rights in WA president Rebecca Davies.

“We have continually seen, both within Australia and globally, that prosecuting people for cases of this nature result in poorer public health outcomes, and a reduction in people going in for sexual health testing. UNAIDS has raised concerns that such criminal laws create disincentives to testing, create a false sense of security for those who believe themselves to be HIV-negative, reinforce stigma against people living with HIV, and result in selective prosecution of people with HIV among otherwise marginalised communities. We share these concerns.”

“It has been extremely disappointing to see the media actively encouraging stigma towards people living with HIV, transgender women and sex workers in their reporting of this case. Such reporting only serves to create fear and misinformation, when it should highlight the need for drastic improvement in public sexual health education.

“We are also extremely disappointed to see repeated transphobic reporting towards the sex worker concerned, including referring to a woman as “male”, using incorrect pronouns, and reporting of her birth name. There can be no justification for such transphobic coverage in 2016.”

“The sexual health of sex workers in Australia has repeatedly been shown to be as good as, if not better than, the general population. A public health-focused response centred on peer education and harm reduction is a far better means of promoting sexual health than harmful measures of criminalisation. We suggest that pouring funds into policing measures while simultaneously seeing funding cuts to sexual health services around Australia is deeply counterproductive.”

Contact:
Rebecca Davies
President, People For Sex Worker Rights in WA
Ph: 0451 984 211
rebecca.davies.rd@hotmail.com

To download the media release as a PDF click here – PSWRWA Media Release – 2016 Feb 19

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Support CJ (preferred name of worker) during her case:

“Every dollar raised from this GoFundMe will go towards ensuring CJ can have her family around her and meeting her direct needs in prison. We may not be able to keep her out of male prison today, but we can at least ensure that she has as much support around her from those closest to her as possible while we campaign to have her moved.”

Click here to visit the GoFundMe and donate – Support CJ Trans Sex Worker

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Want to keep informed and support People for Sex Worker Rights in WA during this case?

Follow PSWRWA on twitter here – @sexworkrightswa

Visit PSWRWA’s Website here – sexworkerrightswa.org

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Media Links

Safety fears for transgender woman in solitary confinement in men’s prison

HIV is a Public Health Issue Not A Crime Say Advocates – Gay News Network

Reports of alleged HIV transmission by WA sex worker highlight stigma

NAPWA, SWOP NSW, Scarlet Alliance, WA AIDS Council, Magenta “HIV transmission should be about public health, not criminal law”

Sex workers stand in solidarity in calling for full decriminalisation of sex work!

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Vixen Collective, Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation
Media Release – Tuesday 15th September 2015

Vixen Collective, Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation, calls for the full decriminalisation of sex work in Victoria as a vital and urgent step that government must take for the health and safety of Victorian sex workers!

Decriminalisation is the removal of all criminal laws relating to the sex industry, allowing sex work to be regulated like any other business – this does not mean no regulation, but that the sex industry should be regulated like other businesses.

“Violence against sex workers happens not just because of individuals who choose to perpetuate violence, but because the laws governing sex work, and the way sex workers are viewed in our society allows it to.”
MJ – Victorian sex worker

The full decriminalisation of sex work is recognised as the worlds’ best practice model for sex industry regulation – by the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, Amnesty International, Australia’s HIV Strategy, multiple medical studies, and sex workers’ representative organisations across Australia and the world.

It is critical that the voices of sex workers be heard, in order for the rights of sex workers be recognised, and the safety of sex workers given protection by law.

” Stop talking about sex workers and start listening to us!”
Rahni Belle – Victorian sex worker

Victorian sex workers stand in solidarity with sex workers in New South Wales, as an Inquiry into the Regulation of Brothels in NSW places decriminalisation there under threat.

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We recognise full decriminalisation of sex work is the only acceptable model of regulation for sex workers’ human rights, labour rights, health and safety.

We ask the NSW Legislative Assembly Select Committee on the Regulation of Brothels recognise this also, and in doing so endorse retaining decriminalisation in NSW as the only acceptable outcome of the inquiry.

Signed in solidarity, and agreement of the above:

Jane Green, Media Liaison, Vixen Collective (Victoria’s Peer Only Sex Worker Organisation)

Janelle Fawkes, CEO, Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association)

Cameron Cox, CEO, Sex Workers Outreach Project New South Wales (SWOP-NSW)

Leanne Melling & Skye Ozanne, Sex Workers Outreach Project Northern Territory (SWOP-NT)

Renai Buchanan, Organiser, People for Sex Worker Rights Western Australia (PSR-WA)

Candi Forrest, Treasurer, Respect Inc (Support for Queensland Sex Workers)

Tarkwin Coles, President, Sex Worker Action Group – Gaining Empowerment, Rights & Recognition (SWAGGERR)

Lexxie Jury, Peer Education Officer, Sex Workers Outreach Project Australian Capital Territory (SWOP-ACT)

Sharon Jennings, Manager, South Australian Sex Industry Network (SIN)

Josephine Rayson, Acting Manager, Magenta (Sex Worker Support Project for Western Australia)

Resourcing health & EDucation (RhED), a program of Inner South Community Health (ISCHS)

Lucy Blake, Delegate, Nothing About Us Without Us (NAUWU)

Difficult Debby & Despo Debby, Members, Debby Doesn’t Do It For Free (Sex Worker Arts & Performance Collective)

Saul Isbister, President/Public Officer, Touching Base Inc

Fiona Patten, MLC for Northern Metropolitan (Victoria Parliament), Australian Sex Party

Simon Ruth, Chief Executive Officer, Victorian AIDS Council

Brent Allen, CEO, Living Positive Victoria

Jenny Kelsall, Executive Officer, Harm Reduction Victoria

Mark Stoové, Associate Professor, Burnet Institute Principal for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Burnet Institute

Dr Graham Brown, Snr Research Fellow, Aust. Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society (ARCSHS), La Trobe University

Rob Lake, Executive Director, Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO)

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For further media information/interviews, please contact – Jane Green, Vixen Collective Media Liaison: 0420 887 845

Click here to download Media Release as a PDF

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Want more information on the NSW Inquiry into the Regulation of Brothels?

‘Sex workers concerned about calls for changes in the way NSW brothels are regulated’ – Sydney Morning Herald

‘Why sex worker laws do not need changing’ – Alt Media

NSW Inquiry into the Regulation of Brothels – Public Submissions

Want to join the campaign to retain decriminalisation of sex work in NSW?

Sign and share the petition here: Save Decriminalisation in NSW for Sex Worker Health & Safety

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Want more information on Victorian sex workers calling for full decriminalisation of their work?

‘An Open Letter to Tom Meagher from St Kilda Street Based Sex Workers’ – Feminist Ire

‘Queer Sex Workers and Decriminalisation: The Key to Fighting Stigma’ – Star Observer

‘Reclaim the Night/Take Back the Night’ – Melbourne 2013

Want to join Victorian sex workers in campaigning for decriminalisation?

Follow Vixen Collective on Twitter here: @VixenCollective

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Click here for listing of Sex Worker Organisations in Australia

Forum on Regulating Sex Work in Western Australia

**Please note: this post contains language that may be triggering/offensive, including whorephobic speech, as it reports on comments made by anti sex work groups and their members**

Tonight, just one day after the Amnesty International resolution to develop a policy recommending the full decriminalisation of sex work, the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Western Australia (UWA) played host to a forum on regulating sex work.

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Speakers included:

In favour of full decriminalisation of sex work, local sex worker Rebecca Davies, member of People for Sex Worker Rights W.A. (local peer sex worker organisation) and Jane Green, Vice President of Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association).

With opposing views in favour of the Swedish (sometimes called Nordic) Model of sex work regulation, Peter Abetz (Liberal Member for South River in W.A.) and Simone Watson (Director of NorMAC, the Nordic Model in Australia Coalition).

Given the history of whorephobic activity and abusive behaviour at public events by anti sex work groups and their members in Australia, Rebecca and I were apprehensive but determined in defending sex worker rights in this setting.  Also we were encouraged by the decision taken by Amnesty International yesterday.

However.

We were subject to the type of stigmatising speech sex workers who speak out about their rights are often subject to, such as:

“…legalising the right to sell her body…”  Peter Abetz

“…at McDonalds you’re flipping the burgers, in prostitution you’re the meat…”  Simone Watson

Audience members had to be removed for taking photos of speakers, despite clear advance notice before the event, written notice at the event and announcements before speakers began.

These are the tactics of stigma, intimidation and silencing used by anti sex work groups and their members.

We refuse to remain silent.

Our speeches are detailed below…

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My name is Jane Green and I am a current sex worker.

I am speaking today, as a sex worker and also on behalf of Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association. We are a peer organisation, this means at every level – staff, volunteers, members and executive committee – we are all current or former sex workers. We do not allow owners or operators of sex industry businesses to hold membership in our organisation.
We are a sex worker organisation – and like other sex worker organisations we represent and are accountable to our community.

I do not speak for all sex workers, because no one can.
I speak from my own personal experience of sex work.

That may seem an unusual thing to say when I have just said that I am speaking on behalf of an organisation that represents sex workers across Australia, but let me explain – I am here to speak about facts. Because I believe in facts. I am here to speak about the evidence that sex worker organisations like the Scarlet Alliance here in Australia, but also sex worker organisations across the world have on sex work, on sex workers experiences – and that evidence reflects my own personal experience of sex work.

Scarlet Alliance, through its member organisations in Australia has the highest level of contact with sex workers of any organisation in Australia.

Sex worker organisations exist throughout the world. In some countries it is illegal to openly admit to being a sex worker or to have membership of a sex worker organisation.

Anti sex work groups regularly portray sex worker organisations as run by those in positions of privilege, or as “industry lobby groups”. This is a blatant lie designed to silence sex workers and their representative organisations. Instead of a standard power-point display I have chosen to run a display of images of sex workers and sex worker organisations from around the world protesting for the full decriminalisation of sex work – you will be able to see clearly that our community is diverse, yet united, in calling for sex workers’ rights to be recognised.

You may have noticed during this event that there are some differences in language being used, by the people to my LEFT.

As Rebecca has explained sex workers, generally prefer to be called sex workers. When our community, the representative organisations for our community – across the country and across the world, as well as the World Health Organisation and the United Nations all ask people to use the term sex worker you might not think that would be a lot to ask.

But it’s a different story when the people you are asking are specifically using language as a tactic to oppress you.
Sex work is work.
My work is real work.
& I have never had anyone adequately explain how having less rights would somehow “save me” or improve my situation.

SWParis

So what do we actually mean when we say that – that the Swedish (sometimes called the Nordic) Model would give us less rights?
When anti sex work groups talk about the Swedish Model “only criminalising clients ” what does that mean?
For a start it doesn’t just criminalise clients, it also criminalises all of the surrounding activities around sex work – Rebecca has outlined this.
But also, about “criminalising clients” under the Swedish Model, in reality exactly how does that work?

Do we imagine the police are just following random people around waiting for them to maybe decide to visit a sex worker?
Are there special psychic police that just know when someone might want to pay for sex?
New advanced technology like the Tom Cruise movie ‘Minority Report’ where police can anticipate what you are going to do in the future before you get there?

Surprisingly no.

Under the Swedish Model police actually target sex workers – the police follow, harass and stake out sex workers while trying to arrest clients.
This is what the “criminalisation of clients” looks like in reality.
This pushes sex workers underground, creates barriers to sex workers accessing peer support networks and health services, limits options when choosing clients and negotiating boundaries, increases risk, and makes it almost impossible to go to police if a sex worker is subjected to violence.

Also, so much of the rhetoric put out by anti sex work groups is centred around stigmatising sex workers and encouraging discrimination against my community.
I would like to point out that I am now going to read a quote, made in relation to the attack on Amnesty International’s support of the decriminalisation of sex work, but please clearly understand that these are the words of an anti sex work group (so I apologise for having to read them, and to those that may find them triggering and offensive):

“Shouldn’t Amnesty be focusing more on ensuring women have a real choice – that they have real agency – by addressing the underlying poverty, discrimination and lack of education that lead women into prostitution..”[1]

That was a short quote.
Let me explain why sex workers often seem so angry when dealing with anti sex work groups:

ensuring women have a real choice”

Not all sex workers are women. Sex workers are people. This may mean women, INCLUDING trans women. This may mean men, INCLUDING trans men. But it also means people that identify across the gender spectrum. & I am not sorry that we do not fit into the box in which anti sex work groups seek to put us.

a real choice”

Thanks for deciding for me, that my choice is “not real”, when comparatively I guess everyone else’s is. Anti sex work groups often claim that any one that actually advocates for sex worker community can’t be representative OF sex worker community. I feel compelled to point out:
The individual sex workers and sex worker representatives that have been behind me throughout my speech on the PowerPoint display would like to illustrate that this is a deliberate attempt to mislead you and to silence our community.

KoreanSW2011

ensuring … that they have real agency”

Agency is your ability to act independently and make your own free choices. The structure of society around us (class, religion, gender, all of these things) influence us. They influence ALL of us.
Anti sex work groups sometimes focus on the idea that sex workers don’t have “free choice”.
WAKE UP and smell the capitalism!
We ALL live and work in a world where we all have to LIVE and WORK.
Unless you are part of a select minority born into wealth and privilege, yes, you will have to work.
People across the world experience relative degrees of privilege (for example white privilege) and are also impacted by the social environment in which they live and work.
But no worker is ever helped by having less options.
Attempting to criminalise sex work – any part of our work – is attempting to limit our options and in doing so makes our work unsafe.
To constrain us from making decisions about where, when and how we work – and most fundamentally whether we should be able to work at all is offensive.
Whatever “choices” we have – we have the right to make them. To suggest that we do not is fundamentally offensive.

addressing the underlying poverty”

Poverty is a global, awful, complex issue – caused by rich countries, webs of influence, the IMF, bad government, charities that do not listen to the communities they serve (or even realise they serve those communities), a host of other factors, as well as social and personal indifference to other peoples suffering.
But poverty does not cause sex work – people living in poverty need to work and support themselves and their families – removing another option by which they can do so is not helping them. It is simply makes the lives of those engaging in sex work whilst living in poverty more dangerous.

“..lack of education..”

Okay, thanks for that – it’s nice to know what anti sex work groups think of us.

I’m not sure what level of education they consider appropriate for a particular workforce before intervention and saving is required, but maybe they could tell us? – perhaps a University degree?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures in 2007 indicate that 21% of people aged 25-64[2] in Australia had a Bachelor Degree or above, so by suggesting that “lack of education” (to some standard they have yet to define) is an issue, anti sex work groups may be insulting a larger proportion of the Australian workforce (76%) than they imagine.
& just how educated are Australian sex workers?

In a study conducted by the Queensland Government, also in 2007, 25% of sex workers surveyed had a university degree – so in Australia (or at least in Queensland) we’ve edged out in front slightly[3].

“discrimination”
Sex workers are currently discriminated against in a multitude of ways on a daily basis across Australia.
I would like to give you a list of examples that I keep when I advocate for sex work community – but when I timed my speech including the list it put me three minutes over time.
After this event my speech will be posted online and includes the list of discrimination that sex workers face in Australia, that is NOT a complete list, but illustrative – I would encourage you to access this, as often the concept of discrimination is an intangible concept, invisible if you are not a part of our community.

Johannesburg2013

This is a list of examples of the types of discrimination sex workers in Australia face, that had to be omitted from the speech at the W.A. Forum on Regulating Sex Work, Wednesday the 12th of August, due to the length of time it would have taken to include it into the event.
Please be aware this list is not extensive, also:
a) it is illustrative of the discrimination that sex workers in Australia face, used as examples when advocating for sex worker community (& sometimes when doing sex worker advocates only have short windows of time in which to advocate),
b) many sex workers experience intersecting marginalisation (for example: sex workers of colour and trans sex workers)
c) the last point is (in my opinion) the most important point

  • Sex workers experience stigma and discrimination through ‘outing’, being exposed as a sex worker, this can impact on workers but also on families, partner/s and friends
  • It can affect school age and/or older children if a parent or carer is who is a sex worker is ‘outed
  • Sex workers may experience interpersonal and/or interfamilial violence when ‘outed’
  • Being a sex worker may affect the outcome of child custody cases
  • Sex worker status may affect access to housing and accommodation
  • Sex worker status affects employment disputes & future employment opportunities
  • Being out or being ‘outed’ as a sex worker leads to discrimination regarding health insurance
  • The ‘Leaking’ and misuse of personal information on sex workers can lead to stalking, blackmail & extortion
  • There are less opportunities for sex workers to utilise remedies to address discrimination
  • Sex workers are discriminated against regarding goods and services (including banking and online commerce)
  • Sex workers have been barred entry to clubs or hotels
  • There is discrimination in education against sex workers (including the exclusion of sex workers from University Courses on ‘morals clauses’)
  • Sex workers are discriminated against regularly in medical settings (for example refusal and/or exclusion from treatment ‘on conscience’)
  • Sex workers have been discriminated against in membership of trade unions
  • Sex workers experience the implication of ‘criminality’ that is implied by registration under licensing regimes
  • Sex workers have less ability to access police/justice under criminalised and licensing systems.
  • There is reduced access to health/outreach services for sex workers under criminalisation/licensing systems for regulating sex work
  • Sex workers experience increased stigma and discrimination in media
  • Police attitudes to sex workers, including corruption and harassment from criminalisation, or entrenched stigma/discrimination from prior criminalisation – affect sex workers ability to access police and their treatment when sex workers do.
  • Sex workers are subject to stalking and harassment from anti sex work groups and their members, including outing to family and in social media
  • Lastly, sex workers are often NOT HEARD – OUR VOICES, SEX WORKERS VOICES are always the most critical voices in ANY discussion about OUR lives and OUR work.

If there is a discussion on sex work happening in Australia, in government, on policy, in media, on our LIVES – if sex workers are not INCLUDED, if our representative organisations are not there – then be aware a choice has been made to deliberately exclude us.

And if anti sex work groups attempt to remove sex workers from discussions about our lives and work, we are not required to sit down, shut up, behave politely and wait for them to stop trying to ‘rescue us’.

ProjectRosex

We’ve been ‘rescuing’ ourselves for years. We call it – sex worker activism.

Equality for sex workers is a future that sex workers are creating every day, through the action and voices of our community and our own sex worker organisations.  This future can be achieved more easily with allies by our sides, making space for sex worker voices to be heard and supporting our activism.  It is not aided by anti sex work groups that do not recognise our voices, rarely if ever talk to us, but frequently talk about us – who refer to us as objects: as “bodies”, say that we are “bought” and “sold”, who call us “product”.

I do not “sell my body”.  My body is still here.  I sell a service.

Suggestions from anti sex work groups and the ‘rescue industry’ that sex workers need others to speak on our behalf, that we are not the experts on our own lives and work – that is silencing our community, that IS exploitation of sex workers.

I cannot expect anti sex work groups to stop working against us.

But I ask you to START WORKING WITH US:
– become a sex worker ALLY
– START speaking up in support of sex workers
– DO NOT BE QUIET when people use hate speech to define us, calling us epithets rather than calling us SEX WORKERS, objectifying us and demeaning us rather than calling our work, just that – SEX WORK
Nothing about us, should ever be without us.

[1] ‘Amnesty International – The Sex Trades New Best Friend’, Tasmanian Times, http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/pr-article/amnesty-international-the-sex-trades-new-best-friend/, Simone Watson, 13-Jul-15.

[2] Refer Australian Bureau of Statistics – http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mediareleasesbyTopic/CAB937E9717F783BCA2568A900136267?OpenDocument

[3] In terms of education, about one-quarter of licensed brothel workers and sole operators reported that they had completed a bachelor degree. This compares favourably with the general community. According to an Australian Bureau of Statistics publication, Education and Work, May 2007, 21% of Australians aged between 15 and 64 years had attained a bachelor degree or above..”, Select Sex Industry Statistics, Prostitution Licensing Authority, Queensland Government.

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My name is Rebecca Davies, I am a Western Australian sex worker and a member of People for Sex Worker Rights in W.A., a peer sex worker group that aims to have our work decriminalized and remove the social stigma sex workers face. Our decision making committee is made up of current sex workers only.

In researching my opponent tonight, I have come to a simple conclusion, Peter Abetz is misguided in his attempts to “help” women. Sticking with his Christian background Peter believes that the government and more importantly men, have a role in regulating women’s bodies. This is evident to me with Peter’s long campaigning for more restrictive abortion laws, saying things such as:

“..the silly thing is if a child is injured in an accident, it can claim damages but if a mother says it’s inconvenient and has the baby killed, the law says that’s perfectly okay..”

in the West Australian, and his persistent attempts to undermine sex workers health and safety by campaigning for the Swedish (sometimes called Nordic) model at every opportunity.

NoSwedishModel

I have been a sex worker for over ten years. I have worked within various legal frameworks in my time, and I have also seen the difference between laws, intentions, and how things are actually implemented on the ground. I have worked with other sex workers doing sex work, and I have also previously worked as a peer educator providing outreach services and health promotion to sex workers across W.A., in sex industry venues, private workplaces and on the street in street based sex work areas.

At this point I would like to give some background on Western Australia. Up until 2000 sex work here was illegal. Keeping a brothel, soliciting etc. way back when, even the police knew this would not work, and the W.A. police, understanding even then, that they could not eradicate the sex industry, implemented what was commonly known as “the containment policy”. This policy, which was not law, but rather police policy, started in Kalgoorlie, in the famous (or infamous) Hay Street area red light district. Under the policy police allowed certain premises to operate only in certain areas of town. The police had to know who was working where. The policy was eventually implemented across the state and certain venues were allowed to operate, workers had to be registered with vice. I began working after the law change, although some workers were not aware of the change, and police continued to collect information. Police have never given clear answers about where this information is kept, for what purpose it is kept and who has access to it.

Often groups advocating the Swedish Model do not seem to understand that just like full criminalization and licencing, it still positions police as the regulators of the industry. The police cannot be of full assistance to sex workers whilst they are continually cast in this regulatory role, which they are not given in any other industry. How can we seek assistance if we experience violence, if we are either subject to penalties ourselves, or under the Swedish model, where we would be lining ourselves up for police surveillance whilst simultaneously cutting off our own income? Somehow I don’t see myself reporting under those circumstances. I think it is also really important to point out research conducted by Elaine Dowd in 2003, titled “Sex workers rights, human rights the impact of Western Australian legislation on street based sex workers. Dowd cites research from SARC, the sexual assault resource center, which found of sex workers reporting sexual assaults in Perth, over 50% were perpetrated by police.

Also problematic is the reference within the Swedish Model to literally almost anyone as a pimp. Landlords can be charged with pimping if they don’t evict sex worker tenants. There was even a case of a sex workers adult child charged with pimping because his mother didn’t charge him rent. Another case that particularly resonated with me is that of Petite Jasmine. Because of her status as a sex worker her children were removed from her custody and given to her violent ex-partner. He subsequently stabbed her to death. I don’t understand how people can say this is a step towards equality, when a women can have her children removed and a violent man is deemed a more suitable parent because someone doesn’t agree with how she makes a living. As a sole parent and a sex worker this is one of my biggest fears, to have my child removed because you don’t like my job.

Often when discussing sex worker rights things can become really heated. For us, this is because it is our lives and livelihoods are on the line and at the end of the day, a simple truth remains, changing the law does not actually affect politicians, or even former sex workers, it affects those of us currently working in the industry today. I think the Swedish Model can be summed up by Ann Martin, Sweden’s trafficking unit head who said:

“..of course the law has negative consequences for women in prostitution but that’s also some of the effect that we want to achieve with the law..”

I am tired of not having full access to my human rights. People don’t seem to want to listen to sex workers, often statistics are thrown around by academic types such as “..95% of women in prostitution don’t want to be there..” and “..most start in the industry at 13..” amongst other hysterical claims. When you do a bit of digging you will find that they are in fact all referencing the same material, research conducted by Melissa Farley, an anti-sex work campaigner. Since people don’t pay much attention to sex workers discrediting Dr Farley, I find it much easier to quote one of those academic types that people take seriously, Justice Susan Himel, who was the presiding judge in Canada’s supreme court during Bedford v Canada, in which Canada’s anti-sex work laws were struck down. Justice Himel said of Dr Farley’s research:

“Although Dr. Farley has conducted a great deal of research on prostitution, her advocacy appears to have permeated her opinions. For example, Dr. Farley’s unqualified assertion in her affidavit that prostitution is inherently violent appears to contradict her own findings that prostitutes who work from indoor locations generally experience less violence. Furthermore, in her affidavit, she failed to qualify her opinion regarding the causal relationship between post- traumatic stress disorder and prostitution, namely, that it could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution.
Dr. Farley’s choice of language is at times inflammatory and detracts from her conclusions. For example, comments such as “prostitution is to the community what incest is to the family” and “just as pedophiles justify sexual assault of children . . . . Men who use prostitutes develop elaborate cognitive schemes to justify purchase and use of women” make her opinions less persuasive.
Dr. Farley stated during cross-examination that some of her opinions on prostitution were formed prior to her research, including “that prostitution is a terrible harm to women, that prostitution is abusive in its very nature, and that prostitution amounts to men paying a woman for the right to rape her”.

On this basis Judge Himel eliminated Canada’s anti-sex work laws, deeming them unconstitutional.

And furthermore, in the words of Dr Melissa Farley’s own research assistant on her research in New Zealand where she attempts to discredit decriminalization, in 2003 Colleen Winn said the study:

“..was not ethical, and the impact has done harm to those women and men who took part in it. It is for that reason that I am writing to the psychologists’ board of registration in California to lay a formal complaint regarding Melissa. I also believe that Melissa has committed an act of intentional misrepresentation of fact”

KolkataFreedomFestival

I’m not here today to ask you to be pro sex work, and I’m also not asking for anything special, I just want my work to be decriminalized so I can be treated like everyone else. I want to be able concentrate on my safety at work rather than police evasion tactics. My colleagues and I don’t want to be rescued, we just want to live and work in peace.

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You can read the live tweeting of the event at: #SexWorkWA

For more information on joining Western Australian sex workers in campaigning for the full decriminalisation of sex work:
Visit the website of People for Sex Worker Rights W.A.
Or join People for Sex Worker Rights W.A. on twitter at – @sexworkrightswa

For more information on joining sex workers nationally in Australia campaigning for their human rights and labour rights:
Visit the website of Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association)
Or join Scarlet Alliance on twitter at – @scarletalliance